Writers through the ages have understood that titles are important to catch the eye of the readers, to give people a clue to content and a hunger to learn more. This being the Advent season, let’s look to see how well the hymn writers accomplished their task in telling the story of Jesus.
I went through my hymnal and chose titles to cover the Nativity story. I started from the very beginning. No, not Do-Re-Mi. (Sorry, this musician couldn’t resist the pun.)
John 1:14 in the King James Version specifically declares Jesus is “begotten of the Father,” and God’s plan for mankind started before there was any human on earth. The 13th century melody with lyrics that date previous to that—4th century!—“Of the Father’s Love Begotten,” is a call of praise to the Trinity, glorious and eternal.
“O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is an 18th century hymn reminding us of God’s promise: the Son of God will appear and save His people. Not only does the hymn plead with Christ to come, but it looks further to the future when He will come again to reign over us in peace.
The Promise is fulfilled! Celebration that Christ is born. Handel set Isaac Watts’s poem to music to proclaim the good news in “Joy to the World!”
With the birth of Jesus, the familiar Nativity tableau is set. Enter the shepherds. “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks” tells us immediately something was going to happen. The shepherds were just minding their own business doing their jobs which included working at night.
Then angels appeared. “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” immediately signifies the angels have an announcement. And since they don’t ordinarily appear to people this must be quite a proclamation!
They announce the identity of the newborn King, they announce His purpose, and they reveal to the shepherds where they can find Him: in “(O)Little Town of Bethlehem.”
After such an amazing event, the shepherds hurry to follow the angels’ directions, and sure enough, they find the Baby lying in a manger. What does the title, “How Great Our Joy?” tell us? The shepherds worship and are filled with joy. I’ve always wondered if the entire town of Bethlehem was aware of the miracle within twenty-four hours as the shepherds spread the news.
While we add the presence of “We Three Kings” to our nativity scenes, in reality, the shepherds were long gone, angels were not visible, and Mary, Joseph, and Jesus had moved into a house by the time the magi arrived. The first line of the hymn states that these kings were from the Orient, and they came to worship this new King, which immediately lets the world know that this King did not come to save only the Jewish people. He came for every human being in the world.
Philippians 2:7-8 describes how Jesus made Himself into the likeness of a man, humbling Himself out of obedience to the Father, and sacrificing Himself for us, gutter scum that we are. In five stanzas, “Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne” tells the story of the above scriptures.
And finally, "O Come, All Ye Faithful." The title is a command, and it identifies those who are to obey. This is why Jesus came to earth. He invites all to join the family God. He calls upon us to encourage others in the hope of a wondrous eternity.
So I encourage all who read this today: Come. Let us adore Him.
Linda Sammaritan writes realistic fiction, mostly for kids ages ten to fourteen. She is currently working on a middle grade trilogy, World Without Sound, based on her own experiences growing up with a deaf sister.
Linda had always figured she’d teach middle-graders until school authorities presented her with a retirement wheelchair at the overripe age of eighty-five. However, God changed those plans when He gave her a growing passion for writing fiction. In May of 2016, she blew goodbye kisses to her students and dedicated her work hours to learning the craft. She still visits the school and teaches creative writing workshops.
Where Linda can be found on the web: www.lindasammaritan.com